Water Supply

Research by Gordon Freegard

In 1889 Neil McNeil began building the original Victoria Dam on Munday Brook, about 25 kilometres south-east of Perth. It was completed in 1891, forming the source of Perth’s first permanent city water supply. The dam, pipelines and associated reservoir at Mount Eliza in King’s Park were constructed and operated by a private company, the City of Perth Waterworks Company. Following wide-spread complaints over water availability and pressure, together with the high incident of typhoid in the city, the entire scheme was purchased by the Government in 1896.

For the first time, water was piped to Mount Eliza Reservoir in King’s Park for distribution to Perth. Up until that time, the supply for the settlement in and around Perth was obtained from private wells and tanks, the only public supplies being two springs. One on what later became the site of the Technical School in St. George’s Terrace, and the other in Mount’s Bay Road, which is still functioning today. That day in October 1891 was a momentous one in the colony’s history, yet it was a humble beginning. When water was piped to Mount Eliza for the first time, reticulation was limited. Even 5 years later, when the works were transferred from private to Government ownership, reticulation totaled just 50 kms.

At the time there were a number of timber mills and towns within the catchment. Poor sanitation, combined with contamination from the animal husbandry and grazing activities are believed to have been the cause of the water quality problems. The solutions adopted included appointing a catchment warden to police the hygiene regulations, together with a system of channels and diversion structures to separate clean and polluted waters.

Victoria Reservoir Full

On 1st October 1891 it was officially opened in a valve turning ceremony by Mrs. LIlla Keane (nee White), wife of the Mayor Edward Keane. Mr. Edward Keane was responsible for building the Zig Zag Railway and starting Canning Mills. He built many miles of railway lines throughout the State and at that time was the biggest employer in Western Australia. The official party and guests arrived by train along the Upper Darling Range Railway from Midland.

Mr. Thompson & Mr. Mitchell Making a Grilling Frame at Victoria Reservoir c1899-1900

At various stages remedial works were carried out at Victoria Dam to improve the structure. Works were generally aimed at increasing the spillway capacity and reducing seepage through the dam wall. The seepage was leaching lime and thus reducing the strength of the concrete and forming voids. In 1966 major remedial works were undertaken. A reinforced concrete upstream facing, varying thickness from 300 to 450 millimetres, was installed to reduce seepage through the wall. A drainage system was installed to intercept any water leaking past the new facing. These works were successful in reducing seepage through the wall.

Victoria Reservoir Shortly After Completion in 1891

Twentyseven years later the original pipes needed replacing. Hume Pipes won the contract and set up a small temporary processing plant near the Pickering Brook Junction railway to line the 20 inch metal pipes with spun concrete.

In the photo below on the left, you can see the railway lines near the Station and the pipes stacked ready for processing. The photo below on the right shows a treated pipe loaded on George Anderson’s truck with Ray Owen, standing at the rear of his “Baby Austin 7” car.

As part of the Water Authority’s on-going dam safety and surveillance program, a safety review of Victoria Dam concluded in 1988 that the dam did not have acceptable levels of safety under modern design criteria for flood and earthquake loadings. The concrete in the original dam is of such poor quality that the dam could not be adequately rehabilitated. The dam was decommissioned in April 1990 and in October 1990 was partially demolished using explosives. Only sufficient of the wall was removed to allow free passage of flood overflow from the upstream New Victoria Dam. The remainder (and majority) of the original dam has been preserved as a relic of Perth’s first water supply.

A review of the alternatives for replacing the original Victoria Dam commenced during 1988. This work involved a review of the various sites available and a preliminary environmental review. In February 1989 the decision was taken to proceed with replacement of the original Victoria Dam. A number of sites were considered for the new Dam. A site 300 metres upstream of the original dam provided the optimum location in terms of site geology and reservoir storage characteristics.

The New Victoria Dam

Celebrating the Centenary of the building of the original Victoria Dam started with the burying of a canister at the water fountain in King’s Park, a few weeks prior to the opening of the new dam. Special guest was 100 year old Gordon White, a descendant of the family connected with the original opening, who was born the year the original Victoria Dam opened.

The story goes that Gordon’s live-in housekeeper drove him to King’s Park and some other family member would volunteer to take him home after. Anyhow when he was approached to be given the lift home the conversation went like this; “Come on we will give you a lift home”
“I’m not going home”.
“What are you going to do?”
“I’m going to “Aherns” for a cuppa”. (Aherns was a deparment store in central Perth)
“How are you going to get there?”
Spritely old Gordon said, “I’m going to catch the bus.”

He was a regular visitor the Aherns Caferteria and was well known to all the staff there. Gordon White lived until 109 years old.

The Opening

The organising commenced some months before and resulted in Ray Simpson whose wife, Margaret in a descendant of the White family, contacting 150 relatives of the Keane and White Families. That were all invited to celebrate the occasion. The object was to re-enact the original opening held 100 years previously by Mrs. LIlla Keane (nee White), wife of the Mayor Edward Keane. The big coe was that Ray discovered one of the young female descendants was named “Victoria” so it was obvious that she be given the opportunity to officiate at the ceremony. Miss Victoria Williams, the great, great grand-daughter of Lilla Keane proudly accepted the invite. All these invited guests dressed in period costume for the occasion and were presented with souviner medallions.

The Opening Ceremony on the 22nd November 1991 was held in two parts. The first was to Commemorate the Centenary of Victoria Reservoir, 1891 – 1991, the second part was the Official opening of the New Victoria Dam following be a re-enactment of the original Victoria Reservoir valve opening in 1891.

The New Victoria Dam was the first major new concrete dam constructed in Western Australia since the Caning Dam was completed in 1940. The dam has a catchment area of 37 square kilometres and a reservoir capacity of 9.5 million cubic metres.

Reference:    Article:        Pickering Brook Heritage Group  
                                     Ray Simpson

                                     Water Authority of Western Australia

                   Images:     1, 2, 3, 9, 20, 21, 22, 23, 24, 25, 26, 27, 28, 29, 30, 31       Ray Simpson
                                    4, 5, 6, 7     Kalamunda & Districts Historical Society
                                    9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18       Water Authority of Western Australia
                                    32     Peter Skehan
                                    33     City of Armadale Library